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Tech in Elementary Schools

“The class of 2030 starts kindergarten next year,” says Nic Olinsky, Sunnyside School District technology director. “To prepare our students for the future, we are introducing skills like file management and word processing in kindergarten. That means when they reach the middle and high school levels, their experience and knowledge will support advanced activities such as telecommunicating and collaborating between classrooms and campuses.” 

The Sunnyside School District Student Skills Action Team is developing a digital literacy plan that matches the Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment standards. The plan covers basic skills like turning on devices and opening apps to creating videos and animation, to research and information gathering. The plan follows a logical progression of skills and knowledge starting in kindergarten. By the last two years of elementary school students will have mastered approximately half of the plan’s 89 skills. 

At Sun Valley Elementary, Sunnyside’s kindergarten-only school, students are introduced to technology early in the school year. By mid-November students spend time each day using Waterford, an online program that personalizes learning for each student based on the results of math, reading, and writing quizzes and games. The lessons adapt to the strengths and challenges each student faces and re-enforces areas where they need more work. The kindergarteners do these activities on iPads or lab computers.  

“Kindergarteners come to school with the skills to swipe and navigate with the iPads because most are familiar with smartphones, ” says Sun Valley Assistant Principal Ryan Kannely. “We work with students to develop desktop and laptop computer skills such as typing and opening and saving files.”

Each class spends time in the school’s computer lab, where they received guided computer skills development. In the picture below, a Sun Valley student is working on moving the mouse around and clicking. It may sound like a simple task, but for kindergarteners, mastering hand-eye coordination takes practice.

Kindergarten teachers like Leina Cobar have also adopted a mix of technology and traditional instruction in their kinder classrooms.

“One activity my kindergarteners really love is Words,” says Cobar. “They work in pairs to solve spelling puzzles quickly on their iPads.”  

She can add letters and words to support her students’ skill levels and eventually, the students will create their own games personalizing the learning even more. Last year, her class participated in the nation-wide Hour of Code with a lesson plan she developed that explained what coding was and gave the students simple coding tasks to complete.

“It was amazing to see that my students understood coding,” she says. “After they successfully tried something new, they approached learning with even more enthusiasm.”

As students progress through the grades, their work continues to align with the digital literacy plan. By 4th and 5th grade, students will have mastered skills like using devices to organize data, be using tools such as the dictionary, thesaurus, and graphing apps to present their best work, and choosing quality web resources such as websites and videos that support their work and research.

Chief Kamiakin fourth-grade teacher Erika Barrom, pictured above, uses iPads for math and language arts instruction. While reading the book, “The Castle in the Attic,” by Elizabeth Winthrop, the class used their iPad Minis to record elements of the book including settings and problems faced by the characters into an app called Explain Everything. Barrom says the app allows her to easily share worksheets and documents with the students and they can quickly provide answers and access previous work through Google Drive. They also use the iPads to quickly research words, periods in time, and references, they may not yet understand. She uses the Digital Literacy Plan to guide her continued use of apps and best practices for digital technology in the classroom.

“It does take extra time to teach efficient use of technology, but once we’ve mastered the tech, we have more time for the content,” says Barrom. “My hope is that this work will provide my students with the confidence to face future challenges with problem solving strategies and a growth mindset.”

Her students can type their answers using the keypad or speak their answers into the device’s microphone. When a student faces a challenge they don’t have the skills to overcome yet, other students are encouraged to share their iPad screen to the class projector screen and demonstrate the skill for the whole class.

Students learn by observing, trying new approaches and trial and error. Using digital devices frequently and giving students the opportunity to work together to find solutions promotes teamwork, the development of diverse skills and better prepares Sunnyside students for the future world they will be entering. 

“Sometimes there is fear of the unknown,” says Olinsky, “Our goal is to take the unknown out of these devices and make them as accessible to our students as pen and paper.”